Research on the Weather Deck

Some people think all writers do is sit in dimly lit rooms in their pajamas and commune with the muse. And that’s some of what we do, some of the time.

But when we’re not working our day jobs, making marketing plans, lifting boxes of books, talking to classrooms of kids, crunching numbers, or creating charming social media profiles…

…we might be out doing research.

Sometimes research looks like a Google search. (Heaven knows I have enough weird sites bookmarked to make the government very suspicious.) Sometimes research looks like interviewing a knowledgeable person.

But sometimes it looks like getting on a boat.


Both The Illuminator’s Gift and its upcoming sequel, The Illuminator’s Test, feature the Legend, a flying ship in the fantasy world of Aletheia. But flying ship though it may be, it still needs to imitate some behaviors of a water ship. Between my history of seasickness and a lack of physical coordination, I had almost no experience with sailing. But when one of my excellent test readers pointed out some major holes in my sailing scenes, I knew it was time to get some.


Enter the Hawaiian Chieftain, Tall Ship and companion to the Lady Washington (better known as the Interceptor from Pirates of the Caribbean). This ship travels up and down the West Coast every year, doing educational tours and teaching landlubbers like me a thing or two about sailing. So my trusty sales manager/photographer/mom and I set out to see the sea (or at least the San Joaquin River).


Captain Eamon was incredibly patient in teaching me the ropes–er, lines. In two jam-packed hours, I learned the difference between a ketch and a schooner, a mainmast and a mizzenmast, a jib and a topsail, and of course, a rope and a line. (A rope is a line without a job.)


More importantly, I learned things the Internet could never have taught me–for example, how much a line weighs. (Answer: a lot.) I got a chance to help trim the sails alongside the crew. Thank you to Bailey and Jamie for giving me a chance to get some rope burns and personal experience.


I also got to watch some crewmembers climb the shrouds to trim the topsails. It looked fun, but also precarious on this windy day. Unfortunately, passengers were not allowed up (liability issues). Even the working crew clipped themselves on with climbing hooks to keep from falling/flying off.


Best of all, I got to steer the boat for about twenty seconds. The Hawaiian Chieftain has very sophisticated navigation equipment (what my characters wouldn’t give for a GPS!) but it still has a beautifully old-fashioned helm.


After a fun and exhausting day of research, I learned two valuable lessons:

1) I would make a terrible sailor.

2) Writing is much improved by hands-on experience.

Keep a weather eye out for the influence of the Hawaiian Chieftain in The Illuminator’s Test, coming December 1st! 

6 thoughts on “Research on the Weather Deck

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